WiltonsThe skillful combination of music and drama can intensify both elements. Here’s an example, from Peter Shaffer’s 1979 play Amadeus. In this scene, court musician Salieri, who has previously encountered Mozart and found him ridiculous, first hears Mozart’s music and realizes his genius – and his own lack of it. Outwardly successful, Salieri knows his own music won’t prove immortal, and is bitterly jealous of Mozart – why would God give such a voice to such a vulgar person, he wonders, and vows to destroy Mozart as revenge against God. The dialog below is perfectly timed to fit with the unfolding of the third movement of Mozart’s most famous wind serenade. At the last performance I saw – 2006 at Wiltons Music Hall, with Matthew Kelly as Salieri and John Doyle directing – the other actor musicians created the piece around Salieri on stage as he spoke. The one problem, perhaps, is that Shaffer has now appropriated this music for me – I can no longer hear it without thinking of the play. But it’s a very powerful scene.

[The Adagio from the Serenade for Thirteen Wind Instruments (K.361) begins to sound. Quietly and quite slowly, seated in the wing-chair, SALIERI speaks over the music.]
It started simply enough: just a pulse in the lower registers – bassoons and basset horns – like a rusty squeezebox. It would have been comic except for the slowness, which gave it instead a sort of serenity. And then suddenly, high above it, sounded a single note on the oboe.
[We hear it]
It hung there unwavering – piercing me through – till breath could hold it no longer, and a clarinet withdrew it out of me, and sweetened it into a phrase of such delight it had me trembling. The light flickered in the room. My eyes clouded! [With ever-increasing emotion and vigour] The squeezebox groaned louder, and over it the high instruments wailed and warbled, throwing lines of sound around and through me – Ah, the pain! Pain as I had never known it. I called up to my sharp old God ‘What is this?…What?!’ But the squeezebox went on and on, and the pain cut deeper into my shaking head until suddenly I was running…

Advertisements